While I may not have been around to experience Centipede in its heyday, I can’t think of a gamer born before 1990 who didn’t experience this game in an arcade at some point. When you say Atari, this is one of the biggest games that comes to mind — it had a massive impact on gaming in the early ’80s. So it was kind of interesting to see that IDW Games had created a board game version of it. We got ourselves a copy and decided to test how well this version holds up to the arcade version.
The board game version works a lot like the video game, with its own set of rules and guidelines as to how it plays out. The short version is that it’s like playing the arcade game at one-tenth the speed. You start by having two players pick a side, either as the player or the centipede. You then take turns setting up the mushrooms on the board placing three in a row anywhere you want. As you might suspect, each player has a specific goal. The player has to kill the centipede before it reaches the bottom of the playing field, while the centipede needs to get to the bottom to kill the player.
The centipede has a few tools at its disposal to aid in making it to the bottom. You get a deck of cards that allow you to move quickly, add more centipede pieces, throw down extra mushrooms blocking the way, or add more bugs to the field like fleas and spiders that can only move in specific ways. Essentially, you’re bombarding the player with as much stuff as you can in the hopes that you’ll overwhelm them and at least get one piece of the centipede down to the bottom for the kill. The drawback is that unless you have cards that speed you up, the centipede can only move one space at a time, so while you have a lot of tools at your disposal, it takes a while to get close.
Meanwhile, the player has a specific set of dice that they use to move across the bottom and fire at you. You roll six D6 that all have numbers, diamonds that represent bullets, and numbers that tell you how many spaces you can move. Looking at the photo below, for example, one of the dice has two bullets and four spaces. You can choose to fire once, then move four spaces, then fire a second time for a turn. Once you use a die, it is removed signaling you used it for your turn, and you don’t get to reroll any of the dice unless you use a player card or are down to one D6. The player also has four cards at the bottom that act as special abilities, giving you bonus actions to use at any time, but you don’t get them back unless you have a die that had a picture of a card on it to return it to play.
The closest I could describe the gameplay to is methodical chess. I’m not comparing it to chess or saying it’s a superior game or anything to that level, but what I am saying is you have to think anywhere between three to six moves ahead in order to succeed sometimes. There’s a lot both sides can do to mess up the other and make things difficult for the win, but ultimately every match I had come down to the wire. It feels very balanced with neither side having a major advantage over the other, and that’s super important when you’re turning a one-sided affair into a two-player game. There’s also an option for both sides to have a centipede and a player in a four-player battle, which was awesome to try out but it does slow the game down more.
I thought Centipede the board game was pretty fun. It’s one of the few two-player games with different opposing sides that do not have the same mechanics that feels balanced. And that’s important for a game like this, because you don’t want someone feeling like they’re getting cheated or saddled with the side that is always at a disadvantage. It’s a pretty good game and probably a must-own for people who loved the original. But do remember, this is a much slower version of what you’re used to and it requires some forward-thinking strategy, so please go in with an open mind and at least a free 45 minutes.